Every non-trivial business needs to share data. Your data does not need be locked up on computers or other devices. Make use of cloud storage to improve sharing and collaboration in your business.
What is cloud storage?
Cloud storage servers allow you to store data on internet servers. These servers act like a hard drive that can be accessed over the internet. As a result of this, data can be accessed from various devices and potentially by many people. This is great for collaboration and sharing. Your accountant can access your accounting data. You can share large proposal files with your clients. Leads can access brochures and lead magnet documents from your website. You can access important documents like quotes and invoices from your phone when you are out and about.
How much does cloud storage cost?
This depends on how much data you need to store. Most cloud storage providers have a free tier. This can range from 2GB to 50GB or even more.
- If you are seeking to save costs, it makes sense to be selective in what you store in the cloud. You could store all working documents, but only selectively store large documents like videos.
- You can spend as little as $5 to $10/month to store 2TB in the cloud. This should meet the needs of many small businesses
Ways to use cloud storage
There are many ways to access and use cloud storage. This includes your own usage and how you share and what measure of control you give others. We will consider various scenarios below:
Firstly, you can “sync” your cloud storage to a folder on your computer hard drive (or phone storage, etc). You use a “sync client” to do this. A sync client is software installed on your computer or device. Changes you make on your computer or device are synced to the cloud. If others are given write access to this cloud storage, then any changes that they make are synced to your device’s storage.
The “owner” of a cloud storage can access its contents. The owner can also grant others access. There are generally four levels of access or permissions when sharing:
- Public read only: The public as a whole can access a document through a web url. Generally you need to specifically create this level of access, document by document
- Read only: The user can read files and folders, but can’t make any changes or create new files.
- Read/write: The user has read access, but in addition can add new files, and delete or change existing files. Generally, sync clients need this level of access to work
- Control/Full access: The user has read/write access, but in addition can invite other people to be able to access this cloud storage
Share to the level that people need access. If, for instance, someone needs ti read a business proposal, place the relevant files in a folder and share read access to that folder. There is no need to give write access to that folder, or any access to the parent folder.
Location of cloud data on your storage device
Data that is synced on a local storage device from cloud storage needs a specific storage location. This could be a subfolder in your documents directory. Keep in mind that you may need several subfolders:
- One subfolder for your “owned” cloud storage area
- One subfolder for each cloud storage that has been shared with you
Try not to place cloud shares inside your own “owned” cloud storage area. Some cloud sync clients can crash if you configure them this way. Instead, you could create a “cloud” subfolder, and within that have a subfolder for your “owned” data, and other subfolders, one for each share
In a small business, you can easily start using cloud storage by creating an account in your name and uploading your business data to that account. It is better to create an account using your business name and then have the business account share the root/top level folder with you. This share can be for control/full access. Use the business login to make additional shares to other people as required. If there is any change, eg contractors or virtual assistants coming and going, then you can make share access changes at that time. In addition, if you ever sell your business, the business account can share to the new business owner and dis-invite you.
Phones and the cloud
How you use cloud storage with your phone or tablet will depend on your business needs. Sync client apps are available for phones. It may not be necessary; however, to sync your entire share to your phone. This especially applies if you have large amounts of data stored in the cloud. You could choose to sync the current year working parent folder. You can still access older or less important data through the app.
There is a tradeoff between device space, network data usage and speed in choosing what to sync to your phone. You can always access data that is synced, even if the mobile network is unavailable. The process of syncing uses data, however. If you need to access unsynced data, you’ll use mobile data to make that access. Accessing those files will also tend to be slower.
Cloud storage can be used to backup your data. Keep in mind that data that is synced across devices is not an effective backup. Changes and deletions are also synced across your devices. There are dedicated cloud backup services that are optimized for data backup. More details can be found here.
Collaboration and file conflicts
Most cloud storage services provide storage and syncing at the the file level. When someone updates a file, others receive the changes to that file. A problem arises where two people make changes to a file at the same time. Your cloud service provider does not know which version should be the latest. This situation can resolve in two main ways:
- The version saved last becomes the cloud version. Changes that the other person made are not incorporated
- The cloud service provider alerts you to a sync conflict. It is up to you to resolve this conflict
Some cloud providers (eg Google, Microsoft and Zoho) provide products that allow a deeper level of collaboration. You work with online collaboration versions of programs such as Google Docs rather than working with desktop applications. Documents can be multi-authored simultaneously. One author’s changes are made available real time to other authors. The potential for conflicts is much reduced – to a cell on a spreadsheet or a word in a document, rather than being at the file level.
Your documents and data are freed from being locked to single devices or computers when you use cloud storage. Data is stored on internet servers and made available to you and those that you share the data with. You can share data to the level needed, from public urls, general read access, read write access and full control. Sync clients take advantage of read/write access to replicate data across devices from computers to phones. Some services allow deeper levels of collaboration. With these services, you and others can work within documents and multi-author them together.